It's interesting how the one running back who fell to injury in last year's training camp will use his health as his best attribute leading into the final three preseason games.
Steelers RB Baron Batch tore his ACL fairly early into training camp last season, robbing him of his true rookie season. Coming back this year, he's seeing his backfield compatriots dropping like Joe Flacco passes. John Clay is on the IR with a torn quadriceps muscle. Isaac Redman had an MRI on his injured groin, and while mum's the word on what exactly the MRI revealed, he won't play in Sunday's preseason game against Indianapolis. Jonathan Dwyer injured his shoulder. Rashard Mendenhall may not be available until well into September.
All that being said, Batch is still on the fringe of making this team, and he'll need to show some playmaking ability out of the backfield and as a receiver to establish himself as a player of need in 2012.
Redman, assuming he is healthy, is clearly the featured back without Mendenhall. Both will make the team, barring setbacks. Dwyer had a long run in the Steelers' preseason opener against Philadelphia. Chris Rainey took a screen pass 57 yards for a touchdown and looked impressive on punt returns.
Batch hasn't shown results akin to his talent. Many will attribute a lack of blocking to his lack of statistical achievement, but with the success of other running backs vying for roster spots, one thing is certain; despite everything else, Batch is going to have to show something Sunday if he wants to avoid playing somewhere else or being signed to the Steelers' practice squad.
Expect Batch to be given opportunities as a slot receiver as well as the recipient of a few screen passes. Some success running between the tackles won't hurt either, although it doesn't appear to be his strong point.
It's really tough to ignore running backs who are willing to stand up to a blitzing linebacker in pass protection, and that's where Batch shines. Either way, Mendenhall's return from the preseason PUP means he cannot be placed on the regular season PUP, which would cause him to miss the first six weeks of the season.
It would also have given the Steelers a roster exception, allowing them to keep another running back (should the Steelers chose to use it on that position). Whether Mendenhall is able to play in Week 1 is unknown right now, but the most likely scenario is the Steelers keep five total running backs - and one of them will be a fullback. So four running backs out of Mendenhall, Redman, Dwyer, Rainey and Batch will make the 53 man roster.
Mendenhall and Redman are obviously locks. Dwyer and Rainey have made plays so far.
Now it's Batch's turn to even that score. And he'll be given opportunities to do it Sunday at Heinz Field.